There have been a few good pieces lately on Kansas center Jeff Withey's impact defensively, but I wanted to point out another facet that KU coach Bill Self touched on briefly during his Hawk Talk radio show Monday night.
Almost entirely because of Withey, KU's opponents simply are not getting easy shots.
Here's a look at the top five teams in the nation this year in layup defense, according to the cool nerd site Hoop-Math.
The reason for KU being the best defensive layup team, of course, is blocked shots. Here's a look at the top five teams in the nation at blocking layups.
As you can imagine, eliminating an opponent's easy shots is a great way to build a defense ... and we can reflect that with some simple arithmetic.
Hoop-math's numbers say that 36 percent the shots KU has allowed this year have been layups (actually slightly above the NCAA average of 34 percent). That means, out of the 405 field-goal attempts KU has allowed this year, about 145 have been layup tries.
Here's how many points that would be produced by opponents with 145 layup attempts against the defenses above, based on those defenses' season percentages.
Obviously, this is a rough approximation, as missing a layup doesn't necessarily mean no points (a team could rebound it and hit a three, for example) and a made layup doesn't necessarily just mean two points (it could result in a three-point play).
But, at a base level, this analysis would suggest through seven games, KU is saving itself about 8.7 points per game over the average NCAA team on layups alone.
It turns out KU's shot-blockers are having an even bigger impact than that. KU's opponents have made just 29 percent of their two-point jumpers (NCAA average is 35 percent) with the Jayhawks blocking 12 percent of those shots (seven percent is NCAA average).
KU's two-point defense has been so good this year it's led to an extremely rare stat: So far, opponents are shooting better from three-point range against the Jayhawks (35.5 percent) than two-point range (35.2 percent).
That statistic is pretty remarkable if you think about it.
This all makes me believe that KU might want to rethink the way it plays defense this year.
Obviously, a lot has been made of KU's perimeter players getting beaten off the dribble by opposing guards.
The thing is, KU's defense hasn't been killed by those players getting to the lane for shots; it's been killed by those players kicking the ball out or finding openings on the perimeter to get shots up.
Here's the breakdown of opponents' shooting percentages against KU.
Looking at the field-goal percentages on the right, the three numbers aren't too far apart. The only difference is that teams are getting three points for the bottom row but only two points for the top two rows.
Let's look at this another way. If opposing teams got 100 of each of the above shots against KU, they would score 80 points in layups, 58 points on two-point jumpers and 108 points on three-pointers.
That means at this point — statistically — KU's defense is much better off daring teams to take their chances inside the arc. (And conversely, opposing teams are better off taking as many threes as possible).
So far, according to KenPom.com, 35.7 percent of opponents' points against KU have come from three-pointers (17th-highest split nationally), while only 45.6 percent of opponents' points have come on two-pointers (317th-highest split nationally).
KU has a unique defensive weapon this year in Withey, as not only is he an elite shot-blocker, he's also one that doesn't get into foul trouble (1.1 fouls per 40 minutes).
Though it would be a luxury for KU's guards to not get beaten off the dribble, the real goal should be to recover quickly and defend the three-point line at all costs.
If the early season is any indication, there aren't many teams that are going to find success scoring over KU's athletic big men, even if they get it all the way to the rim.